Prospecting, whatever you call it, has never been painless. This year, I think most salespeople would agree it’s become exceptionally hard.
For years, buyers have been able to use technology to cocoon themselves, making it harder for sellers to contact them. As working from home and “virtual” selling have dominated this year, that difficulty has multiplied.
What’s more, sellers used to working in offices with other members of their sales team are learning to work entirely remotely. Finding the energy and rhythm to work on new business development has become a challenge in itself.
I’ve said for years that if a sales organization isn’t spending 30-50% of its time on development, it’s going to find growth harder and more expensive. A strong new business focus is a core element for any strong sales organization that sustains growth.
Recently, I’ve been getting more questions about how to prospect successfully in this new “virtual selling” world. Here are the five tips that I share:
1. Be Targeted
This should go without saying, but the first key to successful new business development is to be focused. One of the surprising secrets of successful prospecting is that you must dial into what they are already paying attention to if you want to get someone’s attention.
When you’re prospecting, mindset matters. I’ve been compiling data on this for decades and can say, unequivocally, that when a sales rep is prospecting, the greater their confidence and belief that they will make connections, the higher their connect rate will be. There’s nothing that creates more confidence than great targeting clarity.
There are three components to a robust new business targeting effort:
- A clear customer and target contact profile, providing insight into the world of the people you’re looking to connect with
- A substantial list -- and strong contact data -- of companies and people with a high probability of fitting your profile
- A distinct, concise, and compelling story and talk track that provides insights and challenges your target contacts’ existing framework/status quo
2. Make the Proactive Reactive
The nature of the beast for most salespeople today is one where they live in a reactive loop. Selling has become increasingly complicated, and the demands placed on salespeople have continued to increase in intensity. Selling has become dominantly focused on what noted author and leadership consultant David Marquet calls “red work.” Red work is fundamentally about reducing variability. Red work is the kind of work we are very familiar with. It is a result of the industrial revolution. Red work is about doing.
The historical problem with prospecting is that while it’s crucially important, it is never urgent, and sales reps notoriously suffer from the tyranny of the urgent.
So, what’s a salesperson to do to overcome the inherent nature of modern-day selling?
First, accept the reality. Sure, some salespeople have the focus and discipline to carve out and stick to proactive actions like new business development. But it’s a hard -- very hard -- thing to do.
Once you accept this reality, you can then adjust and turn things to your advantage.
There are two pieces to make the proactive reactive:
- Block time for outreach. That’s right, schedule an appointment for you to prospect.
- Build out plays that dictate the focus and cadence of your outreach. Then use your CRM to automate those plays so that tasks are scheduled for you when you’re supposed to act. That defines what action you’re supposed to take.
I started using this approach a couple of years ago, and it’s more than doubled the productivity and effectiveness of my development time.
3. Have an “Inbound Mindset”
I get hundreds of crappy emails, calls, and social outreach every week. You may be getting them as well. You may even look at that crap and think, “This stuff doesn’t work; it can’t work.”
I agree with you. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the underlying tactics, just how they’re implemented.
The principles of Inbound Marketing can improve outbound sales and marketing efforts. The core philosophy of Inbound Marketing is:
- First, attract the right people by helping and creating value.
- Then engage
Here’s what’s wrong with 99% of the outbound sales efforts I see: they create no value. They’re all about the seller if they’re about anything at all. The result? People ignore, opt-out, and reject. Emails are immediately deleted (making it harder to get into the inbox again), and any conversation/touchpoint is immediately forgotten.
If you take an Inbound mindset and begin your outreach efforts by sharing valuable, relevant insights, you get very different treatment. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that if you link to an insightful blog post in your email or share a point-of-view insight, the skies open, and rainbows appear. But your communications are treated differently. They’re often retained. Your contact begins visiting your website, and you generate lift, making development more effortless as you move forward.
4. Use Video Intelligently
Video can be a potent tool to connect with high-value targets. But, video must be handled with care. As videos have become easier to create, they’ve gotten crappier. Look, no serious executive is looking to spend even 60-90 seconds watching an SDR share their generic “pitch.”
Video is a high-value medium. It’s also a high-cost medium for the viewer. Use video to sell your story and bring more power to your insights. Use video to make it easy to share or socialize your insights. Here’s an excellent rule for using video in sales. Before recording (or sending) a video to someone, ask yourself if what you’re sending will be compelling enough that they would want to share with one of their peers? If the answer isn’t “yes,” don’t send it.
Video is a compelling tactic in a virtual selling world. It enables us to “be there” with the buyer. The attributes that make video so potentially powerful also mean that you deliver a higher value for them to be effective.
5. Use Multiple Communication Channels
I was fascinated by some research shared by McKinsey & Co. They analyzed 40,000 deals from 315 sales reps in Europe and North America and discovered top performers favor cold calls over cold emails, and video is emerging as a top channel.
I wasn’t surprised by the finding itself. What I was surprised by is that this debate still exists. Let me share my findings:
- Emailing alone is better than social alone
- Calling alone is better than emailing alone
- Calling & emailing is better than calling alone
- Calling, emailing, and social engagement is, well, you get the point
I think I was in sales for less than three days when my sales manager told me to “fish where the fish are.” Years later I had a sales manager who told me prospecting was simple -- discover where your best prospects are and be there.
In today’s world, your customers aren’t in just one place, so using multiple channels to connect and engage is crucial. Think of it this way. If you were a competitive golfer in a tournament, the rules allow you to carry 14 clubs in your golf bag. How many of those clubs do you think the best golfers have mastered? Yup, all 14. They play to win. So should you.